The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s officially been a month. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good: I bought a bike.

The Bad: Said bike had a flat at the store and I pumped it up but the next day it was flat again. Try explaining that in Korean.

The Ugly: They gave me a new bike. As I rode away trying to reconcile with the tacky, neon blue bike I now owned I realized I should break for traffic. Said breaks were broken. I looked up and gave God a little head shake and went back. Again.

The Good: I became a member of the nearest theater and have been watching films with the pleasure of my own company and Haribo gummy bears.

The Bad: My favorite thing is to talk about the movie after.

The Ugly: Me searching the faces of the Koreans to get even the slightest sense of how they felt about it.

The Good: I cleaned my apartment again.

The Bad: The wallpaper is still gross and peeling.

The Ugly: I got angry and tried to rip it off and ruined the drywall. I now have to fix that.

The Good: The smiles of my kindy are all powerful and melt me like butter.

The Bad: Between monthly scheduling, progress reports and grading… It’s a lot and I’m tired.

The Ugly: The curriculum is structured solely around text books. These days I’m feeling less like a teacher and more of a facilitator. We have to stick to the schedule and get the pages of the book done or else parents have to be notified. So instead of getting to do a fun, hands-on lesson on plant growth, I’m telling to the kids to fill in the blanks and turn the page, quickly. There’s no room for creativity or alternative lessons. It’s books books books. That’s not what teaching is about.

The Good: On Saturday I rode for two hours through Bucheon and Incheon on my bike just city gazing. I picked up a box of strawberries for 2,000 won from a vendor and stuffed my face on a park bench, eyeballing the tiny Korean dogs that are the norm here. At night I went to a local bar called Rhythm and Booze with friends and jammed to some live music while drinking half off long island ice teas.

The Bad: Nada

The Ugly: I’m a little hungover.

😉

Sincerely,

Savanna

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Ajumma Magic on a Sunny Saturday

Saturday morning. I wake up, roll around in bed for a while, clinging to those last precious sleepy tendrils, before finally admitting defeat and descending from my loft bedroom. I enjoy a simple breakfast and coffee, attempt some yoga (which always turns into a one girl zumba dance instead), do the dishes in my undies (perks to living alone?) and finally shower and get ready to venture out.

I plan for a solitary day: grade papers and read my book at the park, shop for a few things I need at Emart, maybe catch a movie?

But as it happened, the universe had other things in store for me.

I meander around the park until I find a decent spot on some flat rocks in the sunshine, away from the throngs of bike riders and Korean couples with their dogs and toddlers. Before I can reach inside my backpack though, I hear a bright and loud “Helloooo!” from behind me. I turn to see an older Korean woman in a white bucket hat waving at me like we were besties; a small 5-year-old boy ambling behind her.

Alright, so when you live in a city of almost one million and hardly anyone speaks your language, you are truly a foreigner. It can be lonely, to not be able to connect on even the smallest of daily interactions. So I guess that can explain why, my first response to this waving ajumma (Korean grandmother) was to jump up with a stupid grin on my face.

“Hi!” I reply and (God bless her) she comes over to sit with me. We get to talking because her English is decent and whatever miscommunications we have we just giggle and shrug. She has kind brown eyes, a smooth face and a short crop of black hair under her hat. I find out that she’s been to America a dozen times for business (she sells guitars and banjos).

She sits and chats with me for over an hour. I briefly meet her grandson who is rather unimpressed and resumes playing with rocks and sticks and such.

After a while I notice another Korean woman nearby taking pictures of the little boy. Micaela (as I now know her) explains that it’s her sister. We are introduced but her sister doesn’t speak any English at all.

Micaela asks me, “She has daughter, she is 13, that could maybe English lessons. You have time?” I tell them yes and they get excited. “She will call her.” The sister speaks with her daughter on the phone and both of the woman start chuckling.

“What happened?” I ask.

Micaela translates: “Her daughter say, “No! Mom, I don’t want to learn! How could you?Asking some stranger on the street!”

And now we are all laughing together. Sounds like a normal 13 year old to me.

After the laughter subsides Micaela translates again, ” My sister. She has sweet heart. She is feeling sorry. You are here 3 weeks. You are lonely. We will want to give you food.”

And so that’s how I find myself in a small Korean diner on a Saturday afternoon, eating every kind of rice and noodle imaginable with this kind little family.

“I have cottage” Micaela tells me as I stuff seaweed wraps of flavored sticky rice in my mouth (They provided the five-year-old and me with forks).

“Cottage?” I repeat.

“Cottage”

“You have a cottage?”

“C o t t i g e ?”

“Cottige?”

“Like small house”

“Cottage!”

“Yes cottage. In the country. We will go one weekend together”

I like this woman’s confidence!

“I would love that!” I say, smiling ear to ear at my new ajumma.

She insists on paying for the whole meal. And as we walk back to the park together, I smile into the sunshine at the happy turn of events. Before we part she sticks out her hand and I go to shake it. She holds it, looks me in the eye and tells me “So we should meet many times.”

Count me in, lady. Count me in.

Sincerely,

Savanna

Just Bow A Little

It’s Papa Joe’s birthday!

His one wish was a blog post and some pictures of Korea. I’m know I’m a lucky girl to have such a close relationship with my father. This one’s for you.

Another week (almost) down! School has been hectic, lots of scheduling and such. We are almost there though, almost comfortable with the way things run. My kindy and I are ever bonding. I love them to pieces.

The weather is improving and so is my apartment (sort of?). Everything takes time. Tonight I ran on the green path at the big park near my apartment and used the outdoor gym. Old Korean men battled in chess on nearby benches and little fluffy dogs sporting vests sniffed around, as I swung my legs on an elliptical or pretended to do sit-ups.

I have been stopping more and more at the local vendors, smiling and pointing at whatever doesn’t appear to have tentacles. I’m searching craiglist’s for a bike. Just, normal life stuff. You know, in Korea.

I’ve started mimicking the small head bows as I thank someone for my coffee or groceries or …actually any interaction in general. Just bow a little.

And finally, I took some videos so you could see a some of Bucheon for yourself. Only to remember that my free version of wordpress doesn’t allow videos on my posts. Nice.

Dad, give me time. I’ll consider buying the premium WordPress plan when I get paid. Or maybe I’ll just post to facebook.

Meanwhile, here’s this one photo of my school:

DSCN7420

Weird right? 5th floor. Yeah don’t be late to work or else risk being squished in an elevator with 15 kindergartner’s in yellow jumpsuits and green backpacks (Kid’s College attire). You don’t know the half of it.

Until next time.

Sincerely,

Savanna.

Yesterday was, Today is and Tomorrow will be

It’s been 12 days since I’ve been in Korea and I’m starting to form a vague semblance of a life. This is an extremely different type of travel than I have ever experienced. I am not romping around with my two best friends as I did in South Africa. This isn’t a vacation or a mission trip. I have been working full time since day two. And the rest of the time is spent learning to survive.

Despite all the English private schools I haven’t encountered any adults who speak English except for my supervisors at Kid’s College. Not even the doctors! It is humbling.

My daily English conversation exists between me and five year-olds.

” Ms. Sabannateacha!” they sing-song and grin.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in love with every single one of them. Pure innocence and happiness plods into my room each day, sits on the carpet at my feet, raises tiny little fists and says ” I am heeeere!”

We then proceed with a brief discussion of the weather and our daily recount: “Yesterday was….Wednesday! Today is…Thursday! Tomorrow will be…Friday!” (Oh, thank God)

This is my first time teaching kindergarten and I am learning everyday. More importantly it’s my first time teaching ESL and that has been the real challenge. Yesterday I made three kids cry. THREE! Each time I have to reevaluate and wonder what happened. Were they misbehaving or did they just not understand?  It’s a really fine line and easy to mix up. I can’t get frustrated and let my tone get too harsh. Teaching requires an eternal reservoir of patience, even more so with the little ones, and even more so with the little ones whose first language isn’t English.

I am getting used to the boogers and the wiggles, the falling asleep after lunch time, the occasional crying for no apparent reason. It’s a good gig. Tiring, yes, but I love it.

After kindy I teach three different Elementary classes- which leaves me working till 7 at night sometimes. I even got a Master’s class and was offered a raise. The older kids are so well behaved and smart, it’s a pleasure teaching them as well.

At night I come home to my cold little apartment for some wine and netflix. I am okay at being on my own. But I miss the things I used to come home to. Right now this feels less of big adventure and more of a…..I don’t know. Like I said, it’s different.

But I’m optimistic. The warmer weather and a paycheck will really change things for me. I’ll get to see more of Korea, the cherry blossoms. I’ll get out of this apartment and down to the park to grade papers and soak up the sun. I’ll get a bike and a mattress pad. I’ll be closer to seeing Ry.

I’m making better friends with the couples, because I stopped caring about being a third wheel. They’re good people. I’m supposed to go to a battle of the bands in Seoul with them this weekend. I’m sure I’ll be writing to you soon.

Sincerely,

Savanna

P.S. Today my sweater fell off my shoulder a bit and my elementary kids starting gasping and pointing. “What?” I ask them. They stare big-eyed. “What!? What is it?” I start padding myself down. No one’s saying anything. “There!” a little girl yells. “What? Where?! IS IT A SPIDER?” I ask, on the verge of an arachnid inducing meltdown. They can tell I’m panicking. I hear another little gasp but still no one is saying anything. I beg them to tell me what’s going on.

It takes us a while before we come to an understanding that there is no spider or anything actually on me but that my little shoulder show was shocking them. -____-

Seoul Mates

Last night I took a chance and went out to Seoul. One of my co-workers, a girl my age, was meeting up with a friend and invited me to come along to a night out in the third largest city in the world.

I gotta be honest I almost said no. But when I got the invite I was skyping my girlfriend Amanda, “What are you gunna do instead?” she asked. And like a good friend she further talked me into going and even helped me pick out an outfit. Ah, it was almost like college again.

It was an awesome night. We took a bus into Seoul for two bucks and then rode the subway further in. It didn’t take very long because Bucheon is quite close. I also bought my own subway card, which is re-chargeable and can be used to pay for the subway, bus, AND taxis. Look at me go.

About the subways in South Korea: They’re super modern and clean. I loved it. You have no idea. There were also little shops all through out, vendors selling everything from purses to on-the-go waffles. As our friend Vanessa put it, “Subway shopping is the absolute best”.

We got off at Noksapyeong station and wah-la! We were in Itaewon.

The city was alive on a crisp Saturday night. We walked up side streets and alleys with every kind of restaurant imaginable. You want Greek or Egyptian? How about pizza or Thai? Kimbap or Toast Monster (grilled cheese galore)? “What about that South African place?” the girls asked each other. Oh yeah, I was totally up for a good ole’ fashion braii.

We passed by a large U.S. military base which Vanessa explained was part of the reason so many foreigners were in this area. People, people everywhere.

We ate, we barhopped, we danced. I played fooseball with strangers and watched Koreans shake it to Whitney Houston. I met South Africans from Stellenbosch (!?!), aspiring Korean film makers and Canadian English teachers.

As we dashed through the city I straggled behind my group, taking it all in, thrilled to be there and for the first time since arriving, remembering again why I travel.

Gamsahabnida, Seoul. Thank you, Seoul.

Sincerely,

Savanna

Pho Funny

On Monday night I believe it was, I went out to dinner with some of my co-workers. Two of them have been in Korea for a year or more so they know the ropes. We went to a restaurant called Pho Bay. I know that pho is traditionally Vietnamese but whatever, they have it here and we went. Feeling adventurous I got the seafood pho. It turned out to be a bit spicy and also had a baby purple squid in it but I mean, what are you gunna do?

So here I am casually eating my seafood pho which most of you know is noodle soup. Koreans eat with metal chopsticks. That’s their silverware. So it’s a bit tricky but I’m making it work until all of a sudden the long, thick, slippery noodles slip off my chopsticks and splash into the soup, and spicy seafood pho flies recklessly into the air and right into…yep. My eye.

You can imagine the scene from there. I recovered but spent the rest of the evening with one droopy ass, flaming red eyeball.

Jesus why do I even try.

Sincerely,

Savanna

Surviving, or Something Like It

That first Sunday was a lot of crying. So was Monday.

I wasn’t getting any sleep, be it from absurd jet lag or just the terror of falling asleep in this new place.

I wasn’t eating. The food was intimidating, I didn’t know the names or how to order, no one spoke English. I didn’t know where the grocery store was.

I told my parents I’d give it a month.

Before I left people would ask what I was most nervous about and I would always answer, “Making friends. I’m nervous about making friends. Or just, being lonely.”

Turns out I was dead on.

It is my first time living alone. First time living in a country where people can’t understand me. I up and walked away from my life. From every comfort. From every loved one. Those first nights loneliness didn’t creep, it seized, like an electric shock, and throbbed over and over, each new wave effectively sapping every ounce of confidence and strength I had; leaving me wide eyed and shaking in my new bed (which is a fucking rock by the way).

The year stretched out in front of me like…….Alright Idk, whatever metaphor you can think of involving something terribly long and suffocating and impossible to overcome. Use your imagination.

So anyways I was miserable. I wanted to quit. I’m still recovering from those days actually. But people adapt. They survive. So I did. Do I still feel the occasional pulse of pure loneliness and smell the singed tendons of my heart? Sure. But I swallow my terror.

Obviously my situation improved. I met my co-teachers, and while four of them are here with each other as couples, I still get to enjoy their company on the walks to work.

I bought groceries. I found a pizza shop near my apartment (don’t judge me I’m transitioning). I put up my pictures and cards from my friends and family. I cleaned.

Most importantly I started my job. 8 hours of teaching smart, beautiful little children leaves me tired and happy at the end of a long day.

More to come.

Sincerely,

Savanna